By Andrew Malekoff
I was pleased to lend my support for the Mental Health First Aid Training Bill introduced at the Nassau County Legislative meeting of Dec. 17. The bill was developed and introduced by Legislator Siela Bynoe, who invited me to testify in support of the bill. Following is my testimony:
“The Mental Health First Aid Training Bill aims to educate designated county employees to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorders, take steps to de-escalate a crisis, and make timely and relevant referrals to appropriate service providers in Nassau County.
When considering whether there is a need to implement such training, consider this: Everyday 290 Americans die from suicide or a drug overdose. With timely and appropriate intervention many of these tragedies could be prevented.
The Mental Health Bill recommends use of the curriculum developed by National Council of Behavioral Health. Mental Health First Aid is a live training course, which uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis; select interventions and provide initial help; and connect persons to professional, peer and social supports as well as self-help resources.
The training focuses on early detection and intervention by teaching participants about the signs and symptoms of specific illnesses like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and addictions.
The training includes developing a Mental Health First Aid Action Plan, assessing for risk of suicide or harm, listening non-judgmentally, giving reassurance and information, and encouraging appropriate professional help and self-help strategies.
2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires that health insurers treat illnesses above the neck the same as illnesses below the neck with respect to access to timely and affordable care. There is still a very long way to go towards health insurers complying with this law and New York State government enforcing it.
Nassau County can be a leader in eradicating stigma and discrimination by educating its personnel to better understand these illnesses, develop skills to detect and intervene, and enable individuals to access care in the community.
I strongly endorse this bill and thank you for introducing it and taking the time to consider its value.”
I am happy to report that later that day the bill passed the legislature with full bi-partisan support. In so doing, Nassau County has set a great example and taken a proactive step ahead.
The implementation of the Mental Health First Aid Training Bill will help to save lives, preserve families, reduce stigma, fight discrimination and improve access to care. It is also a giant step forward in support of the civil rights of our neighbors living with mental illness and substance use disorders.
Andrew Malekoff is the Executive Director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.